Leaked documents from China show the country mishandled the early COVID-19 pandemic through misleading public data and three-week delays in test results, CNN reported Monday.
A whistleblower, who worked in the Chinese health care system, provided 117 pages of internal documents from the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to CNN.
The files, which CNN had verified by six experts, showed how the region struggled to manage the coronavirus between October 2019 and April 2020 – a critical time period in which the virus spread from China to cause a worldwide pandemic.
China has repeatedly denied allegations from the U.S. and other governments that it purposefully concealed information about the coronavirus. CNN noted that the documents do not show an intentional withholding of information, but they do indicate that there were deviations between what officials believed and what they reported to the public.
On Feb. 10, Chinese officials publicized 2,478 new confirmed cases, making the total worldwide number reach beyond 40,000. But in a file labeled “internal document, please keep confidential,” the Hubei Provincial CDC recorded 5,918 new cases on that date, with 2,345 “confirmed cases,” 1,772 “clinically diagnosed cases” and 1,796 “suspected cases.”
A report from early March indicated that the average time between the start of symptoms to a confirmed diagnosis amounted to 23.3 days. Experts told CNN this timeline would have impeded officials’ ability to respond to the spread of the virus.
The documents also reveal that Hubei was enduring an influenza epidemic in late 2019, which led to cases being 20 times higher than the previous year. While this epidemic did affect Wuhan, which is believed to be where COVID-19 originated, it affected the cities Yichang and Xianning much more.
CNN noted the documents do not suggest that the influenza epidemic and coronavirus outbreak were connected, but the severity of the influenza spike had not been previously reported. Experts told the network that the dual outbreaks would have made it challenging for health experts to pay attention to any new viruses.
China has defended its response to the coronavirus. Its State Council said n June that the government had always published COVID-19-related information in a “timely, open and transparent fashion.”